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History of Archaeological Studies at Wupatki  
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Wupatki Pueblo was first observed by European-Americans in 1851 during a U.S. Army exploring expedition by Brevet Captain Lorenzo Sitgreaves (Wallace 1984). This United States government gave this expedition the task of exploring the Zuni and Colorado River valleys for the purposes of finding navigation routes. On the advice of their guide, mountain man Antoine Leroux, the expedition shifted its goals to incorporate exploration of the Little Colorado River valley. Sitgreaves and his exploring party arrived at Wupatki on October 8, 1851 (Wallace 1984:338). Since the focus of his expedition was not archaeological, Sitgreaves did not spend much time exploring the ruin, but he did order the expedition’s artist, Richard Kern, to make a drawing of the ruin. Kern’s sketch of Wupatki was included in the Expedition’s report. While the drawing is very stylized, the North and South Units can readily be seen. It represents the first known depiction of Wupatki Pueblo (Colton et al. 1934; Downum 1988; Richert 1953a; Sitgreaves 1853).

Wupatki was next explored during the U.S. Smithsonian Institution’s program of archaeological, ethnographic, physical anthropological, and linguistic documentation of the Native Cultures of the West (Hinsley 1981). John Wesley Powell and James Stevenson guided the first Smithsonian expedition to the Flagstaff area in 1883, but we do not know whether these two men actually visited Wupatki. Stevenson did visit the area that would later be set aside as Walnut Canyon National Monument, taking photographs that are believed to be the earliest documentation of the ruins there. It is possible that Stevenson took additional trips to Flagstaff-area sites, but so far we have found no records that he visited Wupatki.


The first well-documented excursion to Wupatki was that of Jesse Walter Fewkes (1900a, 1900b, 1904a, 1904b). Fewkes visited Wupatki for the first time on April 12, 1900 and sketched, mapped, described, and possibly excavated portions of the ruin.

Fewkes established a classification scheme for the ruins he visited. In field notes of April 13, 1900, Fewkes referred to Wupatki as “Big Ruin,” and later referred to Wupatki as “Ruin A of Group B.” Field notes also refer to Wupatki as the “35 mile” ruin, reflecting its distance along a wagon road from Flagstaff. At Wupatki, he further classified the two major room block units of Wupatki Pueblo as “Section A” (the South Unit), and “Section B” (the North Unit). In field notes, Fewkes remarked that Wupatki was, in his estimation, a “pueblo as large as [the Hopi village of] Walpi.” On a sketch map, Fewkes also noted the Wupatki Ballcourt (which he labeled “reservoir”) and the Wupatki Amphitheater (which he also designated “reservoir”, and on another sketch map, “walled reservoir”). It is not clear whether Fewkes excavated at Wupatki during his visit in 1900. Field notes indicate that he was at the ruin for only one day (April 13, 1900) before moving on to record other sites north and east of Wupatki. On sketch maps, he does indicate one room (at the northeast side of Section A) as having been excavated, and he does note the presence of several “graves” in various locations around Wupatki. There is, however, no explicit reference to excavations or their results. Later on the same trip, Fewkes did excavated a few stone cists near Wukoki Pueblo and one human burial lying about 100 m north of Wukoki (referred to by Fewkes as the “Forty Mile Ruin” or “Old Fort.” In discussing these features, his field notes suggest that he may also have excavated at Wupatki. Fewkes remarked that some of the Wukoki-area cists contained nothing,” and added that nonetheless, they may be graves as “they are the same as the cysts [sic] at Big Ruin in which some pottery is found.” In a later published report Fewkes (1904a:16) reported that he had excavated “several” graves during his visits to the Wupatki area, but he did not specify at which sites the excavations took place. He also noted (1904a:16) that during his expedition:

In one of the rooms there was found the body of a baby wrapped in a coarse, white cotton blanket around which were tied other cloths. At the feet of the child had been placed a mummified bird, the bright colored feathers of which resembled those of a parrot. This bird was also wrapped in cloth, and to one leg was tied a prayer-stick as if it were regarded as a sacred animal.

Many fragments of coarse netting and painted cloth were picked out of the side of the wall of debris in the same room. A piece of basketry dug out of another room revealed the fact that the ancients were basket makers. There were also short tubes of canes blackened by smoke at one end, wooden objects of unknown use, shells cut into various forms, and many other objects, to describe which would fill many pages. The indications are good thate there is a wealth of material hidden in these ruins which pleads for the spade of the archaeologist.

Thus, Fewkes may have excavated some burials and other features at Wupatki, but examination of the Smithsonian’s collections would appear to be the only way to resolve this issue.

1920s - 1930s

For more than two decades after Fewkes’ explorations and advocacy that Wupatki be designated as a National Monument, little was done either to study or to preserve the ruin. In 1916, Harold S. Colton and his wife, Mary Russell-Ferrell Colton, began what would become more than 50 years of archaeological exploration and study in Northern Arizona, and they visited Wupatki Pueblo often. It was during their surveys that formally entered Wupatki Pueblo into the site files of the Museum of Northern Arizona. Following Fewkes’ (1904b) lead, the Coltons advocated for the preservation of Wupatki, and in 1924 their efforts were rewarded by a Presidential Proclamation signed by Calvin Coolidge, in which Wupatki and a few surrounding ruins were granted National Monument status. This did not lead immediately to effective preservation, however, and for several years thereafter the pueblo was guarded only occasionally by the Coltons and a designated caretaker, Mr. J.C. Clarke of Flagstaff.

In the late 1920s, Wupatki Pueblo was visited by a number of individuals who were seeking wood samples for dendrochronology. It is known that three such expeditions involved Harold Colton and Andrew Ellicott Douglass (founder of the modern science of dendrochronology). Colton and Douglass visited Wupatki on July 11, 1926, on March 13, 1927, and on July 17, 1927. On these trips they extracted dendrochronological specimens of various types from a number of proveniences, including Rooms 1, 4, 35a, 35b, and 35c, and from various “talus” (wall rubble, room fill, and wood) deposits on the east and west flanks of the pueblo. Others known to have collected specimens from Wupatki in the 1920s through early 1930s (up until about 1933) include J.C. Clarke, C.V. Ridgiley, Florence Hawley, Lyndon Hargrave, and John McGregor (Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research Site Files; personal communication, Gloria Fenner, NPS).
In 1928, the Coltons founded the Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA). As noted, the Coltons had been active in northern Arizona archaeology for about a decade prior to the founding of MNA, and had visited Wupatki often. During this period, Colton made a preliminary map of the visible rooms of the pueblo at that time. His field sketch map was a good representation of Wupatki prior to excavation.

The first authorized excavation project took place at Wupatki Pueblo under the direction of the Museum of Northern Arizona in 1933. The project continued through early 1934 with assistance from the United States Government Civil Works Administration (CWA) program. J. C. Fisher Motz produced his outstanding series of maps of Wupatki Pueblo during this project. The focus of the 1933-34 excavations appears to have been primarily to expose the ruins for public visitation, collect artifacts for Museum collections, and to make work for unemployed men, rather than to conduct careful excavations and produce a thorough site report. Much of the effort expended in 1933 and 1934 consisted of thoroughly clearing a large number of rooms, removing the “talus” deposits from around the pueblo, reconstructing the rooms to their envisioned prehistoric appearance, and constructing other features (e.g., roads and walkways) that would prove useful for visitors. During the 1933-34 excavations, 32 rooms in both the North and South Ruins were substantially or completely excavated (Rooms 1-4, 30, 33-36, 38, 41, 41B, 43-47, 49-51, 53, 56, 57, 60, 62, 62B, 63, 66, 68-70, and 73), and one (Room 7) was partially excavated.

1940s - 1950s

Between 1934 and 1952, several small scale archaeological projects were conducted under the auspices of the National Park Service. The most important of these projects included the work of Reed and Brewer in Room 7, and that of David Jones in Rooms 10, 11, 12, and 15. A. E. Buchenburg updated Motz’ map of Wupatki to reflect new room numbers assigned during Jones’ projects.

The second largest archaeological expedition took place at Wupatki in 1952, under the guidance of the National Park Service. Eighteen rooms were excavated at that time in conjunction with extensive stabilization work to the rooms excavated during earlier projects. The excavated rooms included Rooms 24-27, 30, 39-40, 47, 57-58, 60, 70-71, 73, and 80-83.

1960s - 1970s

In 1965, the Wupatki Ball Court and Blow Hole were excavated and reconstructed. The ball court project is considered an exemplary project, both in terms of the meticulous nature of the archaeological investigation, and the careful attempts to maintain the exact character of the ball court during restoration. However, no detailed report has yet been produced on these excavations.

1980s - Present

Several smaller projects have been conducted at Wupatki, most related to archaeological research. Some of the most notable of these include Stanislawski’s (1963) examination of the material remains from Wupatki and Burchett’s (1990) study of household organization at the pueblo.

1996 - Present

In the summer of 1996, Tom Windes of the National Park Service led a project to collect additional wood specimens for tree-ring dating. He collected samples for all known visible wood samples. A large cache of wood specimens, which had been lying in storage in the “caveate” room (Room 52) was also submitted for tree-ring dating. Downum (Downum et al. 1998) used these data in evaluating construction dates for Wupatki Pueblo.

In 1996, NAU Anthropology M.A. candidate Lisa Folb wrote a master's thesis on the cotton fabrics of Wupatki Pueblo. In 1997, the Northern Arizona University Anthropology Laboratories received a grant from the Southwest Parks and Monuments Association (now Western National Parks Association) to map Wupatki Pueblo and complete a thorough inventory of Wupatki's artifacts (Downum et al. 1998). Western Mapping, Inc. of Tucson was contracted by NAU to perform the first high-precision Global Positioning Survey of Wupatki and its surrounding features. Soon after, the NAU Anthropology Laboratories contracted with NPS to perform a comprehensive documentation of Wupatki Pueblo's architecture, including organization of past excavation and stabilization records and on-the-ground inspection of Wupatki's walls, doorways, and other features. A comprehensive report on this work (Brennan et al. 1999) documents the results.

Wukoki Pueblo, featured on cover of Jan. 1904 issue of magazine "Records of the Past." This magazine contained an article by J.W. Fewkes in which he advocated for the preservation of Wupatki's ruins.

Dept. of Anthropology, P.O. Box 15200,
Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Arizona 86011-5200, USA.